Shock humour: know your target audience


Our generation often draws the short straw when it comes to media representation, and as such we may be branded ‘morally bankrupt’. With two 19 year olds deciding to dress up as the Twin Towers recently, however, is it right that we’re all branded as such? In a word, no. Two teenagers do not represent an entire generation, more importantly our generation. They thought of a ‘funny’ idea and took it too far, and it has understandably offended people, a lot of people. But in their defence, we were never meant know about the costumes, or indeed see them, only the fellow students from the University of Chester at the nightclub were meant to.

I was once at a Halloween party where someone thought it would be hilarious to come dressed up as Baby P. It wasn’t. You, reading this, are rightly offended by that image and the ignorance of that person. However without me telling you this, you would not be offended, and therefore the blame of your offence lies squarely with me. I knew that that anecdote was offensive, but I told it; the only people offended by the costume were the people attending the party. This is a similar defence to that made by Russell Brand in the wake of the Sachsgate scandal. He accepts that what he did was offensive, but the offense of the thousands of people who complained who were not listeners to the show is not necessarily his fault. As the affair exploded the media reported on it, and then on it a bit more, and then more until most people in the country knew about it. Yes, he arguably shouldn’t have done it, but the mass population was never the target audience for the ‘joke’; his listenership was.

Shock humour, rightly or wrongly, is popular, but I don’t believe that this is unique to our generation. There has always been people pushing the boundaries of what is right and wrong to make jokes about. Jimmy Carr once said that the best sound for him in comedy for him is when an audience laughs, and the makes the shocked ‘ooh’ sound once they’ve actually realised what has been said. Frankie Boyle is often held up as the poster boy for shock humour, and he has in recent years become lazy I’ll admit, but if you watch him on TV, or on Youtube, or go to a gig of his you know what you’re in for, so don’t be surprised when he says something that is, for you, offensive.

Picture a scene: four people at a pub, one of them makes a joke which the others find hilarious, then later that night one of them repeats said joke to another friend who finds it offensive. Is the blame of the offence attached to the person who told the initial joke, when they judged their target audience well, or the person who repeated the joke without thinking that it might offend? I would suggest the latter, and that context is all important with regards to whether something is offensive or not.

We currently live in a society where racism is frowned upon, homophobia is frowned upon, and increasingly, with the advent of modesty sleeves on lad mags (admittedly only a small step), sexism is being frowned upon. Go back 20 or 30 years and this was certainly not this case. This is progress on a moral level. For this reason alone we are in no way morally bankrupt. The advent of globalisation and mass communication has made the world closer in a good way, making us all aware of different cultures, and appreciate the differences that are there. I believe that this has contributed to the progress.

The issue our generation faces is that, coinciding with the increase to social networking and instant communication, our misdemeanours can now go viral, as was the case for the Twin Tower outfits. If anything, we are living in an age where we have to be more moral and consciously think about our actions and how we want to present ourselves because of the repercussions our actions may have. The case of these 19 year olds serves as a wake-up call for our generation that we should be more aware of how we are seen, and that one action, even an ill-thought out costume, can have serious consequences on the rest of our lives.

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